Kansas Supreme Court Ends Teachers’ Legal Battle For Tenure

Jun 17, 2018
Originally published on June 18, 2018 5:43 am

Kansas teachers have lost their second attempt to get tenure back for thousands of educators through the courts — but say they will continue their battle at the Legislature.

“So this is a disappointment,” teachers union spokesman Marcus Baltzell said of the decision handed down by the Kansas Supreme Court Friday. “But it's just one step."

Friday’s decision from the state’s highest court was unanimous.

Teachers had complained that Kansas lawmakers repealed tenure through a dark and arbitrary process. But the justices saw nothing in the state or federal constitution or in previous court cases barring what the Legislature did in 2014.

That spring the repeal made it to the Senate floor as an amendment to a bill, bypassing the typical legislative committee hearing where educators would have had an opportunity to weigh in.

A few months later, the law took effect, and districts could fire teachers without saying why or giving them a chance to defend themselves.

Together with the state’s main union, the Kansas National Education Association, teachers who were fired sued.

They argued the Legislature had stripped them of a right earned through years of service — without so much as due process. Their lawsuit described a swift coup by opponents of tenure, complete with late-night legislative maneuvers.

But they couldn’t convince the justices that was anything more than run-of-the mill democracy. Lawmakers are elected by the people, and, the court noted, both legislative chambers voted to end teacher tenure. There’s no reason they couldn’t do that, and no reason they had to hear from teachers first.

The latest defeat at the Kansas Supreme Court comes a year and a half after a KNEA lawsuit on other grounds also failed. If successful, that suit would have restored tenure for all teachers. The more recent one would have restored it just for those who earned tenure prior to 2014.

Teacher tenure, as it’s often called, is also known as due process or non-probationary status. It refers to job protections that teachers used to earn in their fourth year of service at a given school district, such as the right to an independent hearing before being fired.

Celia Llopis-Jepsen is a reporter for the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio covering health, education and politics. You can reach her on Twitter @Celia_LJ

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